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Rear Lateral Raise E-mail
Written by Lynn Glenn   

man_rear_deltsThe Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise is an isolation exercise that is known as one of the best bodybuilding exercises for building the posterior deltoid (rear delts). 

The Importance of Muscle Balance for the Shoulders (Deltoids)

Very often the front deltoids (delts) are strong from lots of pressing movements (bench presses, overhead shoulder press, etc.) so they over power the rear delts. Well developed rear "delts" also will help to keep your shoulders balanced and help to prevent shoulder injuries and rotator cuff problems.

Strong rear delts will also help to improve your strength exercise such as the bench press. With a strong well developed upper back you will be more solid on the bench press and be able to generate more power.

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise Summary 

Target (Main) Muscles 

  • Shoulders (Deltoid, Posterior) shoulder_muscles

Synergists Muscles   

  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor
  • Deltoid, Lateral
  • Trapezius, Middle
  • Trapezius, Lower
  • Rhomboids

Stabilizers Worked 

  • Triceps Brachii
  • Wrist Extensors
  • Erector Spinae
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Adductor Magnus

Mechanics Type

  • Isolation (An exercise that involves one joint movement).


  • Pull (A movement toward center of body during the concentric contraction of the target muscle).


  • Auxiliary (An optional exercise that may supplement a basic exercise. Auxiliary exercises may place greater relative intensity on a specific muscle or a head of a muscle).

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise Procedure  


  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • Bend forward at the waist and keep your back straight near parallel to the floor.
  • Hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing in and elbows slightly bent.
  • Keep your knees bent and back flat, inhale and raise the dumbbells out to your sides until your upper arms are slightly higher than your shoulders.
  • Exhale as you lower the weights to complete the movement.
  • Repeat

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise Tips

Using the tips mention below will help for the muscle(s) full development by incorporating more muscle fibers per rep, thus increasing the muscle's size and strength.

  • Keep your body still. While lifting the dumbbells during the Rear Lateral Raise, it is imperative to keep your body still and lift your arms out straight at shoulder height, this will ensure you are isolating the posterior deltoid and not using other muscles to lift the weight.
  • Use lighter weight. The posterior deltoid is not a very big muscle so only a small amount of weight is required for the Rear Lateral Raise exercise.
  • Lead with your elbows. During the lifting part of the Rear Lateral Raise lead with your elbows rather than your hands.
  • Keep your elbows bent. Keep your elbows bent at about 10 to 30 degrees throughout Rear Lateral Raise movement to avoid straining them.
  • Little finger higher than thumb. Your little finger should be higher than your thumb at the top of the Rear Lateral Raise movement, as if you are pouring water from a jug.

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise Frequent Mistakes

Performing Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise improperly, often referred to as cheating, will not allow for the muscle and muscle fibers to be use their fullest potential, resulting in not achieving desired muscle development. Also by not performing Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise properly, you will be open to the possibility of injury.

  • Don't bounce the weight. The bent-over body position places continuous stress on the lower back and can lead to torso bouncing to help get the weight moving. If you've got lower back pain, this eliminates the exercise for you right away. If you don't have lower back pain doing the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise exercise with a short bounce to get the weight started can actually lead to lower back pain. You can still do Rear Lateral Raises with less back stress by lying on a bench or in a sitting position.
  • Using too much weight. If you use a lot of weight when doing Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raises, the muscles of the upper back will take over. While this results in a good contraction at the top, your rear delts don't really get that much meaningful work until you're at or near that top point. They don't get worked fully and therefore won't develop fully.
  • Don't go pass the shoulder. Don't pass the shoulder level at the top of the Rear Lateral Raise movement as this will include your mid back muscles, therefore eliminating the tension on your rear delts.
  • Don't use momentum. With the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise you might be tempted to cheat by using momentum from the torso to help the weight move upward. This creates an unnecessary toque through the lower lumbar vertebrae and risk injury to the intervertebral discs. It also removes the tension from the middle back muscles and most of the tension from the rear delts.
  • Don't rotate your hands and wrists. During the Dumbbell Lateral Raise movement it's very important to rotate your arms at the shoulder joint rather than your hands and wrists in the top portion of the movement. Rotating your hand involves movements in your forearm, but that will do nothing to help your rear delts.
  • No explosive twisting or ballistic rotational movements. Explosive twisting or ballistic rotational movements at the shoulder should always be avoided when doing the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise exercise. The shoulder is literally being held together by its muscle attachments, it's not wise to explode into this lift, especially during the lateral rotation part at the top of the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise movement.

Variations of Exercise or Equipment for Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise   

A variation of a specific exercise is intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are many exercise variations to this strength exercise that should be incorporated into your Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise workout to avoid plateaus in muscle growth and keep your training fresh. Some of the variations used for the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise are:

  • Rear Lateral Raise on a Flat Bench. This is the similar to the incline bench version except you lay chest down on a flat bench. You should be able to use the same weights as you do with the incline bench version.
  • Rear Lateral Raise on an Incline Bench. The lateral raise on an incline bench is similar to bent over Rear Lateral Raise except you lay chest down on an incline bench. This movement is a more advanced movement that isolates the rear delts even more than the standard Rear Lateral Raise. Because the incline makes it more difficult you will not be able to use as much weight as with the standing or seated versions.
  • Seated Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise. The seated dumbbell rear lateral raise is a rear delt exercise that is similar to the Bent Over Lateral Raise except you sit on the end of a bench. You should be able to use the same weights as you do with the standing version.
  • Cable Rear Lateral Raise. The cable rear lateral raise is similar to the bent over rear lateral raise. The exception being with cables you have a more controlled movement, especially in keeping the tension on the rear delts during the negative part of the movement. 
  • Rubber Band Reverse Flys. Rubber band reverse flys is an isolation movement that targets the rear delts. This exercise is commonly used in for shoulder rehab using bands such as "Therabands" because this version of the rear delt lateral raise keeps constant tension on the rear delt without placing stress on the joints like free weights can.
  • Machine Rear Lateral Raise. Machine rear lateral raise is similar to the bent over rear lateral raise except with using a machine it allows you to really isolate the rear delts without having to worry about too much stress on the joints. The only disadvantage of using a machine is you do not work the secondary support muscles that are required when using free weights.

Complimentary Shoulder Exercises to the Rear Deltoid Lateral Raises

The following bodybuilding exercises would compliment the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise either by working the shoulder's deltoid muscles (Anterior, Lateral, Posterior) individually or as a compound movement working some or all three muscle groups together. 

  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise.  The Dumbell Side Lateral Raise is an isolation movement that works the Lateral Deltoid (side) muscle of the shoulders.
  • Dumbbell Front Lateral Raise.  The Dumbell Front Lateral Front Raise is an isolation movement that works the anterior deltoid (front) muscle of the shoulders.
  • Face Pulls. Face pulls are a good isolation movement that works the rear delts and rhomboids. On a cable pulley machine use a rope attachment. Pull the rope towards your face with your elbows held high. You can use either an overhand or underhand grip. Contract your upper back and rear delt muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together while keeping your chest held high.
  • Arnold Press. The Arnold Press is a compound exercise that targets the Anterior Deltoid with one of the primary secondary muscles the lateral deltoid. One of the main benefits of the Arnold Press it gives your shoulder muscles a maximum stretch that other shoulder exercises lack, which allows for the recruitment of more muscle fibers. 
  • Shoulder Press. The Shoulder Press (aka Military Press) is a basic compound exercise (involving two or more joint movements) that requires the lateral and anterior deltoid muscles to be worked, but primarily recruits the anterior (front) deltoids. Because of the lack of substantial involvement of the rear delts (posterior), the Shoulder Press (aka Military Press is a great shoulder exercise to be performed along with, but before, the Rear Lateral Raise for a complete shoulder workout.

Bottom Line on Rear Deltoid Workout

If your goal is to have a back that is well defined, you must work the rear delts.  By working the rear delts you will also reduce your risk for shoulder injury and rotator cuff problem, while also helping to improve your strength in weight lifting exercises, such as the bench press, and improve your overall shoulder balance. The bottom line: the Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise is one of the best weight lifting exercises to help you develop your rear delts to their maximum potential than any other single rear delt exercise in the gym.

About Lynn Glenn  

Lynn Glenn
Lynn Glenn
Lynn Glenn is a 63 year old natural athlete from Southern California who started training at the ripe young age of 48. After catching the "bodybuilding bug", Lynn became interested in living a healthy lifestyle and started writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, weightlifting, and nutrition for, and

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